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The kids eking a living on the streets



MASERU – THABANG Mohapi, was just 12-years-old when he dropped out of school five years ago and he has no intention of going back.
Born and raised in Ha-Foso, about 10 kilometres north of the capital, Maseru, the 17-year-old grew up in a family where “parents constantly fought over minor things”.
In the meantime, the family was suffering because the parents would not provide for the children due to their incessant fighting.
He has been the family breadwinner since 2014 when he had to look after his only sister.

At the time, he was only in Grade 5, albeit much older to be in that lower class.
“I had to leave school because my parents were unstable. They constantly fought and that led to their separation,” Mohapi says.
He says dropping out was not easy, especially as he had to watch as his peers proceeded with their education.
“I had to make peace with it and I started accepting,” he says.

Mohapi is now surviving on selling fruits and vegetables, sweets, door mats and brooms in Maseru.
His usual trading hours are between 6am and 7pm.
He says his father was the founder of the business and his mother used to be the sales person, but “the minute things got out of control, I had to take over”.
Mohapi says considering the time he has already spent selling in the street, he does not even think of going back to school.

“Five years is not child’s play and it is going to be difficult for me to go back to repeat the same class with children much younger than me,” he said.
He was already older than most of his classmates in 2014 when he quit school.
“It is pointless as I have lost a lot of time and interest,’’ he says, adding that he is happy with his business.
‘‘I now have loyal customers,’’ he says.

He says he makes between M200 to M300 daily, money enough to restock and put food on the table.
‘‘I am hopeful that in years to come, my business will grow into something big.’’
He says during his early days in the street, people used to bother him with questions on why he was not at school. Little did they know the circumstances that had forced him into the streets.
“It was very challenging and the environment was not welcoming,” he says.

‘‘People would always ask me why I left school at such a young age and that tore me into pieces. But I never gave up and I tried not to take that to heart considering that most of them were strangers.’’

Mohapi is just one of many children who have dropped out of school to venture out into the streets for survival.
Tseko Letsatsi, 18, is another.
He dropped out of school when he was just 14 to make the sojourn to the capital from Mafeteng, some 80 kilometres away.
Letsatsi said abject poverty and hunger drove him out of home.

His grandfather was looking after him and his younger sister because his parents were too poor to afford to take care of them.
‘‘I had no uniform and my parents were unable to pay for my fees. Going to school in private clothes made me feel like an outcast and I hated being expelled quarterly for the fees. It affected my school work hence I dropped out,’’ he said.

His grandfather gave him his last M300 to buy fruits and vegetables stock.
He said as time passed he opted to sell motoho (a traditional Sesotho sour porridge) as competition was too stiff in the fruits and vegetable market and he hardly made a profit.
“The motoho business is promising as I now have people who I supply weekly,” Letsatsi says.

“With the little that I make, I have to pay M1 200 yearly for my younger sister’s education to ensure that she doesn’t endure the same thing,’’ he says.
He says he was aware of the efforts of the Ministry of Education as well as the Ministry of Social Development to help the vulnerable children and unfortunately, ‘‘as there were too many children desperate for assistance, I never got the opportunity’’.

Another is Mosiuoa Thebe, a 17-year-old who ventured into the streets at the age of 12.
He comes from Motimposo, a crime-plagued Maseru township.
Thebe is struggling to find his way to the top in the fruit and vegetable business.
He is employed by his neighbour.

He says people hardly buy his wares and most of the time they get rotten.
‘‘That does not sit well with my employer and at times he does not give me anything. He would say he used my salary to buy new stock,’’ Thebe says.
He recalls the day his employer caught him sleeping on duty.
‘‘Waking up very early around 5am led me to sleep,” he says.

“I was fired and had to plead for a second chance to avoid engaging in some of the unlawful things other kids put themselves in.”
These three cases showcase the extent to which child labour is rampant in Lesotho.
In most of the cases, the children are forced by circumstances to abandon home and school.
Nthabiseng Letsie, a Labour Inspector at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, defined child labour as any harmful work carried out by a child below the minimum age of that activity and it interferes with their schooling.

She says it is the ministry’s responsibility to ensure that child labour does not occur.
‘‘We work with other stakeholders to root out the causes as it is multi-faceted,’’ Letsie says.
She says some of the consequences of child labour are failure by families to break out of the cycle of poverty.
Children usually earn less than the set minimum wage.

‘‘This makes them unable to provide for the family we assume they will be able to provide for,’’ she says.
She says the community which has most children engaged in child labour does not improve because there is nothing they bring back to the community.
Letsie says there is a burden on the health services as children become stressed due to working at a young age.
Generally, she says ‘‘their right to education is violated’’.

“We planned to have public gatherings in communities to address the issue of child labour but unfortunately, due to financial problems and lack of resources, it did not happen as planned.”
She says they sometimes hold workshops for child protection teams in the districts to deal with child labour.
She says through a project called Strengthening Labour Inspections in Lesotho, implemented by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), labour inspectors were trained on how to extend labour inspections in the informal sector.

She says the interventions in the informal sector include ‘‘engagement in sensitisation programmes and awareness campaigns because other people do wrong due to lack of knowledge’’.
‘‘We will hold public gatherings for domestic workers and herd boys,’’ she says.
She says after training, they expect employers to abide by the law.

‘‘We will not just open cases at first hand but rather we will ensure that they understand what is required first and if they do not, we will go back to offer more training programme,’’ Letsie added.
The Labour Code prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16. The Children’s Protection Welfare Act (CPWA) requires parents to provide for their children who are below 18 years, while the Education Act says education is free and compulsory for children below 13 years.

Molebatsi Koalepe, a Labour Inspections Manager, said the Labour Code is not specific as to the kind of work children are prohibited from doing.
“It just stipulates that they should not be employed at a certain age,” said Koalepe.
The Labour Code is also silent on children working for themselves like Letsatsi and Mohapi.

Last year the US Bureau of International Labour Affairs noted that although Lesotho has progressive blueprints such as the Lesotho National Action Plan for the Elimination of Child Labor (APEC) (2013–2017) and the National Strategic Plan on Vulnerable Children (2012–2017), there was no evidence of implementation of these policies.

’Mapule Motsopa

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Lawyer in trouble



A local lawyer, Advocate Molefi Makase, is in soup after he flew into a rage, insulting his wife and smashing her phone at a police station.

It was not possible to establish why Adv Makase was so mad at his wife. He is now expected to appear before the Tšifa-li-Mali Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, he was released from custody on free bail on condition that he attends remands.

Magistrate Mpotla Koaesa granted Advocate Makase bail after his lawyer, Advocate Kefuoe Machaile, pleaded that he had to appear for his clients in the Court of Appeal.

Advocate Makase is facing two charges of breaching peace and malicious damage to property.

According to the charge sheet, on October 5, 2023, within the precincts of the Leribe Police Station, Advocate Makase allegedly used obscene, threatening, or insulting language or behaviour, or acted with an intent to incite a breach of the peace.

The prosecution alleges that the lawyer shouted at his wife, ’Mamahao Makase, and damaged her Huawei Y5P cell phone “with an intention to cause harm” right at police station.

During his initial appearance before Magistrate Koaesa, Advocate Makase expressed remorse for his actions and sought the court’s leniency, pleading for bail due to an impending appearance in the Court of Appeal.

His lawyer, Advocate Machaile, informed the court that an arrangement had been made with the police to secure his release the following day, as he had spent a night in detention.

Advocate Machaile recounted his efforts to persuade the police to release him on the day of his arrest.

He noted that the police had assured them of his release the following day, which indeed came to fruition.

Following his release, he was instructed to present himself before the court, which he dutifully complied with.

Advocate Machaile underscored Advocate Makase’s standing as a recognised legal practitioner in the court.

Notably, he was scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal but had to reschedule his commitment later in the day to accommodate his court appearance.

Advocate Machaile asserted that Advocate Makase presented no flight risk, as he resides in Hlotse with his family and has no motive to evade his legal obligations.

He respectfully petitioned the court for his release on bail, emphasising that he had demonstrated his ability to adhere to the court’s conditions.

The Crown Counsel, Advocate Taelo Sello, expressed no objection to the bail application, acknowledging that the accused had a forthcoming matter in the Court of Appeal.

Consequently, the court granted Advocate Makase bail without any financial conditions, with the stipulation that he must not tamper with state witnesses and must fully participate in the trial process until its conclusion.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Trio in court for killing ‘witches’



THREE elderly women were all stabbed to death with a spear during a deadly night after they were accused of being witches.

Three suspects, all from Ha-Kholoko village in Roma, appeared in the High Court this week facing a charge of murder.
They are Jakobo Mofolo, Oele Poto, and Pakiso Lehoko.

They accused the elderly women of bewitching one of Poto’s relative who had died.

The stunning details of the murder was unravelled in court this week, thanks to Tlhaba Bochabela, 32, who is the crown witness.

Bochabela told High Court judge, Justice ’Mabatšoeneng Hlaele, last week that he had been invited to become part of the murder group but chickened out at the last minute.

Bochabela said in March 2020, he was invited by Rethabile Poto to come to his house in the evening.

He said when he went there, he found Mofolo, Poto, and Lehoko already at the house. There were two other men who he did not identify.

“I was told that the very same night we were going to do some task, we were going to kill some people,” Bochabela told Justice Hlaele.

He said he asked which people were going to be killed and was told that they were ’Malekhooa Maeka, ’Mathlokomelo Poto, ’Mampolokeng Masasa.

They said the three women had successfully bewitched Rethabile Poto’s uncle leading to his death.

Bochabela said after he was told of this plot, he agreed to implement it but requested that he be allowed to go to his house to fetch his weapon.

He said Lehoko was however suspicious that he was withdrawing from the plot and mockingly said “let this woman go and sleep, we can see that he is afraid and is running away”.

Bochabela said the only person he told the truth to, that he was indeed going to his home to sleep instead of going to murder the three elderly women was Mofolo who also told him that he was leaving too.

He said he told Mofolo that he felt uncomfortable with the murder plan.

Bochabela said he left and when he arrived at his place he told his wife all about the meeting and the plot to kill the women.

He said his wife commended him for his decision to pull out.

“I told my wife to lock the door and not respond to anyone that would come knocking looking for me,” Bochabela said.

He said later in the night, Rethabile Poto arrived at his place and called him out but they did not respond until he left.

Bochabela said in the morning they discovered that indeed the men had carried out their mission.

The village chief of Ha-Kholoko, Chief Thabang Lehoko, told Justice Hlaele that it was between 11 pm and 12 midnight when he received a phone call from one Pakiso Maseka who is a neighbour to one of the murdered women.

Chief Lehoko said Maseka told him to rush to ’Mampolokeng Masasa’s place to see what evil had been done to her.

“I rushed to Masasa’s place and on arrival I found Pakiso in the company of Moitheri Masasa,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said he found the old lady on the bed, naked with her legs spread wide.

“I was embarrassed by the sight of the old lady in that state, naked and covered in blood,” the chief said.

He said he went out and asked Maseka what had happened but Maseka referred him to Moitheri Masasa.

Chief Lehoko said Masasa told him that there were people with spears who had threatened to kill him if he came out of the house.

He said Maseka said he knew that Masasa’s neighbour, ’Malekhooa Maeka, was a light sleeper and she could have heard something.

The chief then sent one Patrick Lehoko to Maeka’s house to check if she had heard anything but Patrick came back saying Maeka was not at her house.

“I immediately stood up and went to ’Malekhooa’s place,” Chief Lehoko said.

He said when he arrived, he knocked at her door but there was no response so he kicked the door open, went in and called out ’Malekhooa Maeka by name.

Chief Lehoko said he then lit his phone and saw her lying in bed covered in blankets.

He said he then went closer to her and shook her but she was heavy.

Chief Lehoko said he tried to shake her again one last time while still calling her out but he touched blood.

He said he immediately left and went back to tell others that Maeka seemed to be dead too.

“I decided to go and buy airtime from the nearest shop which I had passed through near ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s home.”

He said on his way he met one Sebata Poto who asked him who he was.

Chief Lehoko said he only replied by telling him that the two women, Masasa and Maeka, had been murdered.

He said Sebata Poto told him that “’Matlhokomelo has been stabbed with a spear too”.

Chief Lehoko said he rushed to ’Matlhokomelo Poto’s house where he found her seated in the middle of the house supported by her children with blood oozing from her chest, gasping for air.

“I stepped out and went to get airtime, but I found her dead when I returned from the shop,” the chief said.

The case continues.

Tholoana Lesenya

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Opposition fights back



THE opposition is launching a nasty fightback after Prime Minister Sam Matekane defanged their no-confidence motion by roping in new partners to firm up his government.

Matekane’s surprise deal with the Basotho Action Party (BAP) has trimmed the opposition’s support in parliament and thrown their motion into doubt.

But the opposition has now filed another motion that seeks to get Matekane and his MPs disqualified from parliament on account that they were elected when they had business interests with the government.

The motion is based on section 59 of the constitution which disqualifies a person from being sworn-in as an MP if they have “any such interest in any such government contract as may be so prescribed”.

Section 59 (6) describes a government contract as “any contract made with the Government of Lesotho or with a department of that Government or with an officer of that Government contracting as such”.

Prime Minister Matekane’s Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) has a history of winning road construction tenders. Other Revolution for Prosperity (RFP) MPs, most of whom were in business, had had business dealings with the government.

It is however not clear if the MPs were still doing business with the government at the time of their swearing-in.
Matekane’s MGC Park is housing the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which is a government institution established by the constitution, getting its funds from the consolidated funds.

The motion was brought by the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) leader Lekhetho Rakuoane who is a key figure in the opposition’s bid to topple Matekane.

The motion appears to be a long shot but should be taken in the context of a political game that has become nasty.
Advocate Rakuoane said the IEC’s tenancy at the MGC is one of their targets.

“The IEC is one of the government departments,” Rakuoane said.

“It is currently unethical that it has hired the prime minister’s building.”

“But after the motion, he will have to cut ties with the IEC or he will be kicked out of parliament.”

The Democratic Congress (DC) leader, Mathibeli Mokhothu, said although the IEC is an independent body, it can still be regarded as part of the government because it gets its funding from the consolidated fund.

The Basotho Covenant Movement (BCM)’s Reverend Tšepo Lipholo, who seconded the motion, said the Matekane-led government “is dominated by tenderpreneurs who have been doing business with the government since a long time ago”.

“Now they have joined politics, they must not do business with the government,” Lipholo said.

He said some of the MPs in the ruling parties are still doing business with the government despite their promises before the election to stop doing that.

“Those who will not abide by the law should be disqualified as MPs,” Lipholo said.

“Basotho’s small businesses are collapsing day-by-day, yet people who are in power continue to take tenders for themselves.”

He applauded the Abia constituency MP Thuso Makhalanyane, who was recently expelled from Matekane’s RFP for rebellion because he withdrew his car from government engagement after he was sworn in as an MP.

“He set a good example by withdrawing his vehicle where it was hired by the government,” Lipholo said.

Rakuoane said during the past 30 years after Lesotho’s return to democratic rule, section 59 of the constitution has not been attended to even when it was clear that some MPs had business dealings with the government.

“This section stops you from entering parliament when doing business with the government. Those who are already members will have to leave,” he said.

Rakuoane said they are waiting for Speaker Tlohang Sekhamane to sign the motion so that the parliament business committee can set a date for its debate.

“The law will also serve to assist ordinary Basotho businesses as they will not compete with the executive,” he said.

“There are many Basotho businesses in business these MPs are in. They must get those tenders instead.”

The new motion comes barely a week after a court application aimed at disqualifying Mokhothu.

The government-sponsored application sought the Constitutional Court to declare Mokhothu unfit to be prime minister because he was convicted of fraud in 2007.

Mokhothu has been suggested as Matekane’s replacement should the motion of no confidence pass in parliament.

Nkheli Liphoto

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